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Ash Aspect: Michael Gove Meets His Ash Constituents

By David Reading

He has been accused of destroying Britain’s education system. He was involved in bitter exchanges during the EU referendum. Michael Gove, MP, is accustomed to controversy and he found plenty of that when he paid a visit to Ash, which is part of his Surrey Heath constituency.

Mr Gove met a group of his constituents at the Lion Brewery pub, where the burning topic of the day was the immense scale of the house building planned for Ash, Tongham and Ash Green. Mr Gove was told – and agreed – that this would effectively turn the area into a new mini-town.

Micheal Gove MP

Gove’s present role is Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is a post that is highly relevant to the matter of housebuilding in the Ash and Tongham area. There are many of us who fear for the whole environment around Ash will be destroyed.

He told the residents he fully understood their concerns, particularly those relating to the potential flooding problems caused by new development and the need for infrastructure to be in place before the homes have been built. However, he conceded: “My role is to stand up for you, but I can’t make the decisions.”

Ash Green residents were delighted when, in November, Gove made his opposition known to plans by Bewley Homes to build 95 houses on land at the Ash Manor in Ash Green.

Ash Manor House

When the proposals went to appeal, he told the Government’s Planning Inspectorate in a letter: “I recently attended the medieval moated Ash Manor (Grade 2) to meet representatives of AGRA and I was overwhelmed by the unique and special history of this valuable rural site, which AGRA is understandably anxious to protect.” (AGRA is the Ash Green Residents’ Association).

Mr Gove listed the significant number of reasons why residents objected to the scheme:

There would be an increased risk of flooding; the development would have a devastating effect on the moat, and the Manor itself would face a risk of substantial harm; important wildlife habitat would be destroyed as would ancient trees; there would be a threat to archaeological artefacts; traffic dangers would increase, as would vehicle noise and pollution; there is inadequate infrastructure, narrow country roads; finally the development would be out of character with the surrounding area and would damage the heritage status.

A few days ago it was announced that Bewley’s appeal has been withdrawn and an inquiry planned for March 13 has been cancelled.

To me, Mr Gove sounded supportive at the meeting but one is often wary of politicians saying what people want to hear. Will he support local people further? After the meeting, I put three questions to Mr Gove in an email.

Question one: People are deeply concerned about the Bewley Homes development off Ash Lodge Meadows, fearing the effect that it will have on local infrastructure, particularly roads and the local health service. What will he do to help us ensure that these issues are addressed in a meaningful, practical way?

Michael Gove’s reply: I will work as closely as possible with local councillors, Surrey County Council, Guildford Borough Council and the Local Clinical Commissioning Group.

Question two: Regarding the Ash Lodge Meadows scheme, people believe there will be a serious risk of flooding post-development. Bewley Homes has promised to introduce flood prevention measures, but there is a strong feeling locally that Guildford Borough Council has not undertaken the necessary surveys to ensure that Bewley’s proposals are adequate. What can he do to highlight this issue with the result that local councillors will not be complacent in this matter?

Michael Gove’s reply: They seem very far from complacent. We are in close touch to ensure we deal with flood risk.

Question three: There is general concern about the burden on the Ash area presented by numerous developments. Following the part he played with regard to the Ash Manor development, will he commit himself to offering further positive support to local people?

Michael Gove’s reply: I will do all that I can to help local people.

Mr Gove’s replies were not as comprehensive as I had hoped. Nevertheless, promises have been made and I’m sure local people will expect them to be kept.

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